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By Enrico Gaveglia, Deputy Resident Representative

A few years back, I had this curious short-circuit in my mind which I have had some difficulties to explain even to my closest friends. Checked in a hotel in wonderful Barcelona on the day of my 43rd birthday, the receptionist welcomed me to El Pais with a smile, seasoned by a classic gypsy guitar playing in the background. That night, as I was meeting my colleagues in the hall, a more-than-decent midsize chocolate cake appeared, lit up with a candle. Generous clapping and laughter went on — the same ones that, at times, have made me leave a crowded party earlier than usual. I did what was expected and blew the candle. Before distributing the cake, I read the number attributed to my new age by this way too curious hotel employee and I found myself mentally protesting against the number on the candles; 34, I am 34, not 43!

Here we go. I had, for a moment, forgotten my age — an unconscious victim of the poisoned fruit of juvenility; an imperative of our time, with an evident drop off few synapses as it progressively happens after 40. For the history books and for you lining up a smile next time you bump into me, this was and will remain a jet-lag side effect, claro? Muy bien.

Fast forward a few years later, we have just concluded our online meeting with the United Nations (UN) — Youth Thematic Group at the usual “zoomland,” which provided an opportunity for us all, leadership at the UN in the Philippines, to listen to the voices of the youth and most importantly see a well-educated sample of them on screen, live and full of energy. Reflections and deep views were re-proposed to us in full fluency of our own aid jargon. Interesting to walk with them through their “new normal” during the corona-virus pandemic with flashy PowerPoints in a wonderful display of Anglo-Saxon synthesis.

Our generations co-exist in these revolutionary years in which consolidated habits, political canons, cultural and ethical references that have long given shape to our civilization disappear. All this wrapped up in a bag of social distance, and at times filled by fears and good intentions especially for the work of others, of frontliners in the fight against the virus.

Some of us, when far away from their professions, are often alarmed by a confused present, in which the pace of scientific and technological innovations pair with the delegation of powers to else in a rather protracted administration of the emergency. We are privately worried about a deprived political space that bring civic rights, social norms and cultural traits to an accelerated transformation to a point of no return. A reactionary flow to democratic governance pimped by those same old steroids and temptations to the executive powers that have bruised humankind in the past with or without a plague to deal with. Abnormal, in fact.

The latest stats in the Philippines, of which I am not a fan as you may have perceived already, paint a similar picture as many other countries around the world — a nation which is trying to address two emergencies within one emergency. The first is the one unfolding before our eyes with the dramatic consequences tied to being touched by the virus. 136.6 thousand positive cases counted so far among the many who are currently active agents of transmission or have recovered, while 2.3 thousand succumbed to the grips of the virus and died [1]. The other emergency is the one being faced by healthy citizens preoccupied to keep the infection away, flattening the curve, and recover all at on©e [2] so that they can return to providing income for their families.

These are two very different conditions in which, all the sudden and for the last several months, the attention to the numbers of new active cases has become more important than the names of the people who were affected by it. Young people under the age of 30 are generally less affected, but they rightly claim that they are faced with immense and unique challenges such as: a completely new way to access education; poor level of protection for young healthcare workers; mental health issues; vulnerabilities in the most marginalized groups i.e in Mindanao and among indigenous communities; food insecurity; lack of livelihood and employment opportunities during the pandemic.

At the same time, COVID-19 has flipped the perception of a society that had elders often in positions of power or at the top of corporate finance. COVID-19 has pushed the boundaries of the productive and consumption age from an important and profitable engine to a dispensable social asset. The virus compounded by other elderly health issues has hit the elders more, 70% of the positive cases, all at once shortening the time span between retirement and death. And while the national health system is stretched by its structural limitations as it keeps trying to address the challenge, the elderly seem to lose their immediate value add to the youth all of a sudden. On one hand, they represent highly possible agents of virus transmission. At the same time, between health security and compassion, the collective choice bends its routed social norms to bet on the preservation of life for a better future. A cold pass to decades of knowledge, experience, personal history and care. The past, it seems, has no place in the future. Past is, by a violent logic of a scientifically-driven natural selection, being accelerated to oblivion, “cleaned up” or “socially cleansed” from the present.

It is in this logic that the interdependence of generations may have been broken by COVID-19 in the Philippines and everywhere else. While this young group commits to us all in the UN to contribute to the policy debate and a renaissance of economy at all costs, while a right set of light-hearted aspirations of new business ideas is put forward, I am left to wonder…

I wonder if anybody in this virtual room will surprise me with an unconscious reflex of rebellion, a minor “short circuit” of doubt, and stand up, pause for a moment their technologically-driven startups and walk away.

Walk away from a broken public circus of new abnormals, re-claim a private space of un-traced personal security. To do what? To sit and converse with their elders or, more importantly, breath in and exhale at a slow pace of an old normal and finally mourn for all that they have lost.




These few thoughts are dedicated to an elderly mentor of mine, socially distanced from his beloved by the natural way of life and with whom I wish I could have shared this, privately, may be sipping a cup of our favorite Ceylon tea.


[1] Data from August 11th 2020.

[2] The Philippines National Economic Development Authority issued a “We Recover as One” report that contains recommendations to rebuild confidence and adjust to the “new normal” that will arise from the country’s response to COVID-19.

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